Facebook plans to form an electoral commission

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Facebook has approached academics and political experts to form a commission to advise him on issues related to the global elections, said five people familiar with the discussions, a move that would see the social network shift some of its political decision-making to an advice. body.

The proposed committee could decide on issues such as the viability of political advertising and what to do about election-related misinformation, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were confidential. Facebook is expected to announce the commission this fall in preparation for the 2022 midterm elections, they said, although the effort is preliminary and could still crumble.

Outsourcing election issues to an expert panel could help Facebook avoid bias criticism by political groups, two people said. The company has been blown up in recent years by the curators, who accused Facebook of suppressing their voices, as well as by civil rights groups and Democrats of allowing political disinformation to fester and spread online. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t want to be seen as the sole decision maker when it comes to political content, two people said.

Facebook declined to comment.

If an election commission were formed, it would mimic the action Facebook took in 2018 when it created what it calls the Supervisory Board, a collection of journalism, legal and political experts who judge whether the company was right to remove certain messages from its platforms. Facebook has submitted some content decisions to the Supervisory Board for review, allowing it to show that it is not making its own decisions.

Facebook, which positioned the Supervisory Board as independent, appointed the panel members and pays them through a trust.

The most publicized decision of the Supervisory Board was to examine the suspension of former President Donald J. Trump after the storming of the United States Capitol on January 6. At the time, Facebook chose to ban Mr. Trump’s account indefinitely, a sanction that the Supervisory Board subsequently ruled “”no appropriate”Because the deadline was not based on any of the company rules. The board asked Facebook to try again.

In June, Facebook responded by saying it would ban Mr. Trump from the platform for at least two years. The Supervisory Board weighed separately on more than a dozen other cases of content that it describes as “very emblematic” of broader themes with which Facebook struggles regularly, especially if certain messages related to Covid must remain on the network and hate speech issues in Myanmar.

A spokesperson for the Supervisory Board declined to comment.

Facebook has had an uneven track record on election-related issues, dating back to Russia’s manipulation of platform advertising and posts during the 2016 presidential election.

Lawmakers and political ad buyers have also slammed Facebook for changing the rules for political ads ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Last year, the company announced that it prohibit the purchase of new political ads the week before the election, then later decided to temporarily ban all American political advertising after the polls closed on election day, causing an uproar among candidates and ad buying companies.

The company struggled to deal with the lies and hate speech surrounding the election. In his last year in office, Mr. Trump used Facebook to suggest he would use state violence against protesters in Minneapolis ahead of the 2020 election, while questioning the electoral process as the votes cast. were counted in November. Facebook initially said that what political leaders were posting was newsworthy and shouldn’t be touched, before reversing the course later.

The social network has also encountered difficulties during elections elsewhere, including the proliferation of targeted disinformation on his WhatsApp messaging service during the Brazilian presidential election in 2018. In 2019, Facebook deleted hundreds of deceptive pages and accounts associated with political parties in India before the country’s national elections.

Facebook has tried various methods to stem the criticism. He established a political announcements library to increase transparency around buyers of these promotions. He also set up war rooms monitor elections for disinformation to avoid interference.

There are several elections in the coming year in countries like Hungary, Germany, Brazil and the Philippines where Facebook’s actions will be closely watched. Misinformation about electoral fraud has already started to spread before the German elections in September. In the Philippines, Facebook deleted networks of fake accounts that support President Rodrigo Duterte, who used the social network to gain power in 2016.

“There is already this perception that Facebook, an American social media company, is participating and rocking the elections of other countries through its platform,” said Nathaniel Persily, professor of law at Stanford University. “Whatever decisions Facebook makes, they have global implications. “

Internal conversations around an electoral commission date back at least a few months, said three people with knowledge of the matter.

An election commission would differ from the Oversight Council on one essential point, the people said. While the Supervisory Board waits for Facebook to remove a post or account and then reviews that action, the election commission would proactively provide advice without the company calling sooner, they said.

Tatenda Musapatike, who previously worked on elections at Facebook and now heads a nonprofit voter registration organization, said many had lost confidence in the company’s ability to work with political campaigns. But the electoral commission’s proposal was “a good step,” she said, because “they are doing something and they are not saying that only we can manage it”.

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